Saudi King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the previously all-male consultative Shura Council in decrees published on Friday, marking a historic first as he pushes reforms in the ultra-conservative kingdom. The Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia also known as Majlis as-Shura or Shura Council is the formal advisory body of Saudi Arabia.
Two decrees reconstituted the council, which advises the government on new legislation, for a new four-year term – and stated that women should always hold at least a fifth of its 150 seats.
The decrees give women a 20 per cent quota in the Shura Council, a body appointed by the king to advise him on policies and legislation.
One decree amended an article in the council’s statute to allow women to be members while the other named the 150 members, among them 30 women.
The king took the decisions following consultations with religious leaders.
The council has had female “advisers”, but women still have little role in public life in the conservative state. They are forbidden from driving, are currently excluded from holding high political office, and will get the vote for the first time in 2014. They are also unable to travel without permission from a male guardian and may not mix with unrelated men.
King Abdullah first announced that he was planning to name women to the Shura Council in 2011, when he also said they would be allowed to vote and stand as candidates in the 2015 municipal elections.
The king said he had consulted religious scholars, who had approved the participation of women in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law).
“Women… will enjoy full rights of membership, be committed to their duties, responsibilities and assume their jobs,” he added.